A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN ^43 hot We had no water. Our mouths were so parched that the skin cracked. The air was full of sand, sand crunched under our feet, gritted in our teeth, pricked our eyes, blew down our throats. It was horrible, I tell you! If a man stumbled and fell, he would lie face downwards in the sand, unable to get up. We had a Commissar, a chap called Yakov Pavlovich Volodin. A flabby intellec- tual by the look of him—he was an historian. But he was a staunch Bolshevik. One would think that he would have been the first to drop, but he kept on, and encouraged the others. 'Not far to go now. Well be there soon,* he would keep on repeating; and if anybody lay down he would level his pistol at him and say: 'Get up, or I'll shoot!' "On the fourth day, when we were only about fifteen kilometres from the city, the men were completely played out. We staggered along as if we were drunk, and the trail we left zigzagged like that of a wounded animal. Suddenly the Commissar started a song. He had an awful, thin voice and the song he started was silly, the marching song they used to sing in the old army, but we all chimed in and sang it. I gave the order: Tall into line!' and had the men march in step. You wouldn't believe it, but the going became easier. "After this song we sang another, and then a third. Can you picture it, little girl? We sang with dry, cracked mouths, and in such a scorching heat! We sang all the songs we knew and at last arrived, without leaving a single man in the desert___What do you think of that?" "What about the Commissar?" "What about him? He's alive and well. He's a profes- sor of archaeology. Digs up prehistoric settlements. True, that march cost him his voice. Speaks in a hoarse whisper. But what does he want a voice for?... Well, no more stories tonight. Go along, little girl, I give you my word as a cavalryman not to die any more tonight." At last Meresyev fell fast asleep and dreamt about a strange desert, about cracked, bleeding mouths emitting the strains of songs, and about the Commissar Volodin who, in the dream, for some reason resembled Commissar Vorobyov.